Category Archives: playground bloggers

Treasure Maps and Playground Pirates

In North America, it’s the season to see bands of pint-sized pirates, cowboys, astronauts, superheroes, Mario Brothers and others out and about in the streets in preparation for the annual Hallowe’en pilgrimmage. Our Nellie-Rose took on a swashbuckling persona at a recent visit to a community centre party. She makes for a very fetching pirate captain I think – eat your heart out Johnny.

By serendipitous happenstance, at the same time Nellie-Rose was suiting up for her arrgh me maties moments, my inbox goes ping with a London’s calling treasure. It’s a great email from Verônica telling me all about the new venture she’s embarked on with her partner Rodrigo – mapping the playgrounds of the world.

Map View – London

Following an afternoon in downtown London, these transplanted Brazilians were looking for a playground break for their daughter who was beyond bored after a shopping expedition. There was nothing in sight and when they used their mobile devices to look for something all that came up were Thai Restaurants and Sex Shops – not the fare they were interested in.

That experience inspired Verônica and Rodrigo to get mapping. They are setting sail and inviting playground lovers to join the crew. While adventuring, they will locate and mark treasure troves with an ‘X’, well okay, with a swing icon actually.

It’s early days for Our Treasure Map, its companion blog and Facebook Page so the number of sites are limited and concentrated primarily in London, UK. The plan is to reach out and incorporate already available information and track down new data.

Map View Brasilia

Our Treasure Map’s Brazilian friends have been busy loading up the platform with playgrounds from Brasilia, Rio and Sao Paulo. There’s plenty of room for adding more playgrounds and other child engaging activities and places. The site has a mobile version and the couple are working on developing an app too.

Rocket Playground at Ana Lidai Park in Brasilia.

When the sky is the limit, there’s lots to do and plenty of room to fly. I tried the ‘add a playground’ feature – it’s totally painless. Our Treasure Map now has its first entry from Nova Scotia a few kilometres from our home and not far from a popular swimming beach. Add something yourself and don’t forget the photos. They can make all the difference.

Verônica and Rodrigo are looking for feedback on Our Treasure Map 1.0 and will make changes and introduce new elements based on what they hear from users. So do drop into the Facebook Page and let them know what’s working for you and what you might like to see added. My parting comment – I love the little pirate guy, reminds me of our Noah-David.

Help chart the course of play and share your playground riches on Our Treasure Map. Happy Hallowe’en…

Cheap Thrills – Playgrounding on Vacation

Has there been ample traipsing around museums, trudging through shopping centres, interminable amusement park screeling and screeching, enough blue-lipped, sand-encrusted, beachy shivering for your young ones this vacation?

Aground – La Grave, Magdalen Islands, Canada

For the seven or eight and under crowd, maybe it’s time for a playground holiday visit. They’re fun fueled, inexpensive, physically active outings. Often there’s unfamiliar equipment for the kids to scramble about on, something they’ve never seen before. And what better place to meet local kids for fleeting friendships.

Red and Yellow – Fatima, Magdalen Islands, Canada

This August we’ve had a week in the islands, The Magdalen Islands in Canada’s Gulf of the St. Lawrence. We’ve hit a few playgrounds between beach and backyard games. The kids want a return engagement with every one of them. Here’s a quick slide show of les terrains de jeux des Iles.

Morning Skies – L’Étang du nord, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Tips for holiday playground hunting:

– check the local town or city’s website, if you’re lucky playgrounds will be listed. One of the best I’ve come across is New York City;

– check the local school board for a listing of schools. Inquire to determine if school playgrounds are accessible after hours and during summer holidays. Unfortunately that’s not the case in all jurisdictions;

– check the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder, great for US and parts of Canada;

– if you’re very lucky there will be a local playground blogger where you’re going. Here’s a little shameless promotion of my Halifax, Nova Scotia – PlayGround Chronicles. Other playground bloggers are noted in the left hand column;

– ask, or do the wander walkabout.

Country hills – Ile d’Entrée, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Happy vacation…

Playground Access for All Abilities

The following guest post was written by Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play. Mara has 15 years experience designing and operating inclusive playspaces. Let Kids Play provides accessibility services to organizations that operate playgrounds or other playspaces. In addition, Let Kids Play helps parents and grandparents select perfect toys for children with disabilities.

Mara is the editor of accessibleplayground.net which includes a directory of accessible playgrounds throughout Canada and the United States as well as providing significant information about accessible playgrounds.

Research study, after research study has proven that children need to play. Children need to play because it makes them healthier and less likely to become obese. Children need to play because it makes them more focused in school. Children need to play because it teaches them social skills that are essential to becoming adept adults. Although play has been decreasing from our landscape, many children are still out there playing on playgrounds.

According to the United Nations, 10% of the world’s population has a disability. Other studies in the United States and Canada have put that number as high as 20%. To create a good playground, design is incredibly important. During the design process, we must be conscious of accessibility issues to ensure that we don’t leave out 10-20% of the children. Playgrounds are often inaccessible because no one talked about it at the beginning of the design phase. Make sure that your committee includes people with disabilities, parents who are raising children with disabilities, and other stakeholders.

One of the major decisions you will need to make is about surfacing. If a child cannot get to the playground all of the other issues are moot. Therefore, you need to look at how people get from the parking area to the playground and ensure that there is a smooth path making it easy for people using wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or using other mobility devices to reach your playground. Then you need to think about surfacing. Except in the United States, there are no required standards on accessibility. However, in Canada, the UK and other countries there are voluntary standards dealing with surfacing and safety.

To make a playground truly accessible, you do not want to use loose fill. Loose fill surfacing such as sand, pea gravel, wood fiber, and rubber shreds is very difficult to push a wheelchair or stroller across. In addition, many parents who are raising children with developmental delays and autism have expressed concerns about their children eating loose fill or putting it into their nose or eyes. There are parents who are raising children with autism who will not go to a playground when the surfacing is loose fill.

Synthetic surfacing such as pour-in-place, rubber tiles, and turf designed for playgrounds are workable alternatives to loose fill. Although these options are all more expensive upfront, they do not require the constant maintenance of loose fill. The other benefit is you don’t need to add new fill on a regular basis. To meet safety standards, loose fill needs to remain at a certain depth, which requires regular purchases of new fill.

Once you have made a decision about surfacing—which is probably the most expensive decision you will make–you need to keep in mind that children’s abilities, regardless of their diagnosis are very diverse. Remember that all disabilities are not physical. There are children with autism and other sensory disabilities. There are children with a variety of learning disabilities and developmental delays. Therefore, you don’t have to put all of your money into a ramped structure. If you do include a lot of ramps there should be something significant to do at the top of the ramp. It should be recognized that it will never be possible for all users (whether they have a disability or not) to access all equipment or play activities.

The key to good playground design is for your playground to have a large variety of activities to attract children of all ages, heights and abilities as well as differing interests. There should be a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible play elements along with those that are more challenging. Consider including a variety of ground level activities. If there are not enough play elements that provide challenge, some children will go elsewhere to play, making the playground less inclusive or they will create their own challenge, making the playground more dangerous.

In this video you can see how children with disabilities do not need ramps to play.

Sensory play is important for all children and it is especially important for children with disabilities. Sensory includes movement as well as touch, sound, and smells. Parents have often expressed that the most important play equipment in a playground are swings. Playground manufacturers now make bucket swings with good seat belts to help children with disabilities position themselves in the swing.

Although the following video is long, it provides you with a understanding of the importance of sensory play. The video also demonstrates the positive impact good design has on children with disabilities and their parents.

Landscaping is another important part of playground design. Plantings can add great smells and textures. Landscaping can be designed to create quieter areas for children to have time away from the hustle and bustle of the playground. Landscaping can also ensure that there is shade over the playground. Shade is important for all children, but for some children with disabilities it is essential. If there is not natural shade, playground manufacturers have created a variety of ways to add shade to your playground.

To recap, here are the top ten things to think about when designing an accessible playground.
1. Make sure that “accessibility” stays on the table throughout the design process.
2. Include people with disabilities and parents who are raising children with disabilities on your planning committee.
3. Select synthetic surfacing for your playground.
4. Include a wide variety of playground activities.
5. If you are putting in ramps, make sure there is something to significant to do at the top of the ramp.
6. Provide a wide variety of challenge.
7. Include swings in your playground.
8. Provide a lot of sensory activities in your playground including movement, sound, and tactile.
9. Use your landscaping to enhance your playground by providing more sensory input as well as creating quieter places within your playground.
10. Make sure that your playground has shade.

If you have other questions about accessible playgrounds you can reach Mara at mara@letkidsplay.com

Global Playground Bloggers

Pinpoints of light are flickering across the web in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Playground bloggers are setting up beacons to celebrate outdoor play, to mark the spots where fun can be found, laughter heard and friendships made.

Most local governments do not provide comprehensive, web-based listings of the playgrounds in their jurisdictions. There are notable exceptions such as New York City. PlayGroundology will look at the New York experience in a future post.

In some areas, blogging is filling the internet void of readily available information on playgrounds. Versatile platforms such as WordPress and Blogger enable the posting of narrative, still photos, audio, video and mapping. The technical threshold is such that with very little experience people can create a reasonable looking and functioning presence on the web at virtually no cost.

Playground bloggers are presently few and far between. There are not many communities that get to benefit from their passionate sleuthing, scribing and push it out sharing. Google searches suggest there are fewer than 20 people compiling information on playgrounds in their local communities. Maybe it’s time for local governments to consider honorary playground blogger laureates.

It doesn’t appear that the bloggers are poised to mount a Pinky and The Brain type takeover of the world’s playgrounds. However, the number of people involved is growing and may possibly move into trending territory. One thing is sure, wherever these intrepid trackers of family fun open shop they are developing an appreciative readership base.

Michele Whiteaker of Orange County, California had 3,000 visitors to her blog so far in January, not exactly the peak of the playground season even by California standards.

“My goal is to promote play by playing, encouraging others to play and sharing our experiences.” – Michele Whiteaker

Michele’s Fun Orange County Parks has been spreading the news about the joys of outdoor play in Orange County, California for two years. That puts this Mom of two in vanguard territory as one of the first out of the blocks with a blog that focuses predominantly on playground reviews.

With over 100 playgrounds under her belt, this playground aficionado has a varied menu to offer her readers. “I get great feedback,” says Michele. “Everyone who knows about it loves it. They say it’s all there in one place.” More and more people know about Fun Orange County Parks. As SoCal has a population of over 20 million and there’s a real cultural tilt to outdoor activity, there’s plenty of room for her numbers to grow.

It was everyday events that led her to playground blogging. “I was doing the newsletter for a Mom’s Club when my son was 10 months old. Every week we went to a different park and I had to write detailed directions. I thought it would be great if we had a database, or could start a website. But there were rules and concerns about privacy issues among the group. In Colorado I wrote a small, montlhy newspaper column about parks in the town we were living. It was limiting because they didn’t have the ability to publish more than one picture. Once the blogs came around it just made sense. I made my first post in April 2008.”

Michele writes and looks after the technical and design elements of the blog in the early mornings before anyone is awake and again after the kids are off to bed. She does a bit of tweeting and other social media during her daughter’s quiet time. Then there are the outings to the playgrounds themselves which are adventures for her and the children. It’s a significant time commitment and she jokes, “It’s almost like a full time job. I’m not a stay at home mom, I’m a work at home mom and I don’t get paid.” A recent redesign which she customized and implemented resulted in a major spike in time dedicated to the blog. Now Michele is back to a steady 20 to 25 hours per week.

Michele loves what she’s doing. She gets great satisfaction hearing from other parents and knowing that the blog helps people discover a larger play canvas and encourages them to explore beyond their immediate neighbourhoods.

And of course there’s her kids, her inspiration for starting this off in the first place. “They think Mom has the coolest job in the whole world. They really like it. I try and take the pictures first when I get to a park. Just wait a sec, let me get the pictures and then we’ll play. They love it, they’re great.”

Over on the Atlantic coast, Sheila Sayah is cutting her own groove on New Jersey’s playground circuit. Working from her home in Springfield, Sheila started out with a photo stream on Picasa. It wasn’t long before she acquired a domain name and the blog project – NJ Playgrounds – took on an accelerated life.

Sheila and her three kids are inveterate playground seekers. She noticed there was a gap in the information available online. Most of the new playgrounds she discovered were through word of mouth. She started what she calls her ‘labour of love’ in the summer of 2008 thinking it would also be an opportunity to meet other parents.

It’s helped to get me out of my shell too. I’ve been meeting some wonderful people and it’s great to be able to provide something for fellow mothers, fathers and caretakers. – Sheila Sayah

Ralston Playground - Mendham, NJ

Visits to the site are hovering around 100 per day in the down season. This more than doubles in the summer when traffic increases to about 7,000 visits per month.

Like Michele on the Pacific coast. Sheila is supplementing the blog, adding channels, with a Facebook fan page and tweeting on twitter. She’s passionate about her playground blogging and bringing people together around a common cause and interest, a following of sorts. It’s just possible that both Sheila and Michele are in what Seth Godin calls tribe and movement territory.

Sheila has had some fortuitous experiences related to her playground blogging. A local author with a series of playground guides has contacted her and they are now exploring how they can collaborate on projects.

She’s got some projects of her own in mind too. Sheila is now looking at connecting with New Jersey celebrities to explore what their favourite playgrounds are and what playground memories they have from their childhood years. She is just starting out on this and is hoping to make contact with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Stay tuned for ‘playgrounds of the stars’.

Boutique blogs, like these two, with local knowledge, a personal touch and a passion for their subject matter make all the difference. A toast to urban trekkers tracking fun in green spaces doing their best to ensure that parents and children get outside to do what kids do best – play.

PlayGroundology will feature playground bloggers from Canada, Australasia and Europe in the coming months.

Photo credits in order of appearance

  1. A. Smith
  2. Fun Orange County Parks
  3. Fun Orange County Parks
  4. NJ Playgrounds
  5. NJ Playgrounds

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.